Two thirds of that same area is now a charred and blackened wasteland. Setting off on an afternoon run last weekend, I noticed a fire engine in a cul-de-sac abutting one of these several vlei areas, and copious smoke. My heart began to sink. Arriving at a habitual favoured Mandara parking spot of mine from whence to set off adventuring, my worst fears were confirmed. As far as the eye could see, there was nothing but devastation on a grand scale — the fire was still burning in some places, and the smouldering remains of what had been an area of real beauty, deeply saddened me.
My first thought was of all the animals and birds whose home turf this lovely area comprises. I had to hope that most had escaped the flames, knowing full well plenty would have perished — all part of an intricately balanced natural web, once again thrown out of kilter by mankind.
Now, predators would be having a field day, with precious few places for small scurrying animals to hide. Confirming this, my dogs were soon gleefully chasing a terrified scrub hare which had run practically straight into us, no doubt fleeing the heat, and with no easy place to find safe harbour. Fortunately it must eventually have found a bolthole! Herons were everywhere, taking full advantage of the situation — good for them — and there were even some storks around, not often seen this time of year, no doubt capitalising on the post-fire easy pickings of insects, frogs and lizards.
With a heavy heart, I ran, across the charred remains of what had the day before, been thick, tall grass and reedbeds, reduced to absolutely nothing but char. I learnt, by asking a couple of people en route, that the fire had raged its way through this vast area in just two hours, having been set — whether purposefully or through sheer carelessness, but without any doubt, human-caused — around 2km from where I first viewed the damage. It proved uncontrollable by the fire brigade, given the breeze and tinder dry state of the bush and vlei grass. I found many trees smouldering at their bases. Some may recover, some definitely will not — yet further deforestation.
Along my way, I furiously stamped and beat out several smouldering and flaming areas small enough to tackle alone, having done the same in the vlei by the Haka Game Park fence two nights earlier, where another hideous fire was beginning to rage, quite clearly lit deliberately, with a series of carefully placed points of origin at equal intervals, and most certainly, not serving any useful purpose — firebreaks already being in place long since. I alerted the Game Park management in time for them to take some preventive action, for there was enough breeze and sparks flying to endanger the game park itself, in spite of their good fire breaks.
While out running I’ve since put out several more small fires in these same bush and vlei areas, all clearly either deliberate or resulting from a carelessly dropped cigarette butt or unattended purpose-lit fire — knowing these to be but a tiny drop in the ocean of this widespread annual destruction.